Randall David Cook's clever, funny, and comfortably bizarre play, Third Finger, Left Hand, is a production that could benefit from the addition of both time and space. A portion of the Jasper entourage had the opportunity to attend a late night show on Friday, for the next-to-the-last-performance of the play's Columbia run, as we snuggled into the intimate confines of the Trustus Black Box Theatre along with a few dozen of our closest friends. An efficient configuration of the seating in the black box area created something of a theatre-in-the-round arrangement and, as is the way with small space productions, we all became a part of the show.
With a cast of five strong women and one delightful man, (Joe Hudson plays the part of Mark Luke Matthews, a church organist with a penchant for sound effects), the play catapulted the audience into the overlapping conjunctions of sad but hysterical drama from the first word. In the part of a sappily sweet-mouthed wedding planner, Dell Goodrich embodied the socially constructed worst of Southern womanhood as she contrived and manipulated, and said one thing but meant another, all from a plastered smile evoking images of the proverbial serpent in the garden itself. While it is disturbing to see this stereotype perpetuated in the theatre, the reality is that those bitches are still out there and maybe the best way to rid the world of them is to expose their likes on the stage for all to see. Sumner Bender, Kristin Wood Cobb, Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, and Denise Pearman, under the direction of Larry Hembree, fashioned a well-balanced ensemble cast that fed off one another like a dysfunctional and somewhat sapphic sorority.
The 75 minutes of Third Finger, Left Hand were filled with all the laughter and cringes appropriate to a modern-day gothic tale of the worst of humanity dressed up all pretty in the guise of family lore, but we couldn't leave the theatre without feeling as if the play itself needed something more -- the luxury of time and space. While we enjoyed the intimacy of the black box setting, Third Finger, Left Hand is the kind of play that really needs to spread out and take off its Spanx. We would like not only to see the play on a larger stage with a less minimalist set, but also in two extended acts. Several of the most important components to the creepiness of the conflict were delivered to the audience like a slap on the face, but with the economy of the forward motion of the play, we were given little time to process them. A few extra moments for both the actors and the audience to catch our collective breath -- and realize how disgusted we really were -- would have been helpful and much appreciated.
That said, thanks to Randall David Cook for bringing his special kind of crazy back home to South Carolina. We like it when successful people don't forget where they came from. And we like it even better when they come back. You have one more night to see this engaging play. Do it. Then call, facebook, or email Randall David Cook and ask him to bring it back to us again -- same cast, same director -- but this time on the main stage.